Lawyers in Texas wait with indigenous Texans for answer from U.S. Government


It’s not just liberals crying out against the separation of families and poor detention conditions within the U.S. immigration system and it’s not just conservatives voicing concern about the integrity and safety of their communities being compromised by the failure of U.S. immigration policy. Everyone has a dog in the fight, including the nation’s first peoples, an issue explored by this article in the Texas Tribune. Indigenous Texans on tracts of land previously granted property rights are seeing their land holdings (once again) seized by the U.S. government, this time in the name of immigration and border enforcement. But lawyers in Texas working with the Lipan Apaches affected by the feds’ actions are pointing to the (continuing) reality that the feds are breaking their own rules in dealing with this issue, and a report filed with the feds and the United Nations is beginning to bring some of the details to the media and the public.

Here’s what is known: Native American tribes with land along the Texas-Mexico border have seen their property confiscated in the last decade to make way for a border fence, which now “blocks access to sacred sites and deprives the Lipan Apache of their First Amendment right to express their religious freedoms at certain traditional ceremonies.” Seeking relief from the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, lawyers in Texas associated with the University of Texas law clinic and aiding the native groups are hopeful for an answer from the U.S. government by midsummer.

But other border residents and Texans wouldn’t encourage indigenous Texans to hold their breath. The federal government has argued that “the fence, combined with technology and manpower, is essential to border security.” Lauded by some, the benefits are disputed by others. Some border landowners report that before the fence, their land was “overrun with trespassers,” but immigrants, environmentalists and human rights groups see the fence as a waste of resources “that hasn’t stopped the flow of illegal migration.”

(Some clever lawyers in Texas, such as our very own Micah F. McBride, and politically independent figures opposing the fence have pointed out that “migration” is only “illegal” when it becomes “immigration,” reminding Americans that as a globally privileged group, U.S. citizens can essentially “migrate” virtually anywhere on the planet while conveniently restricting access to their homeland, denying others the privilege of freedom of movement so profitably enjoyed by individuals and American corporations alike).

Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border hasn’t responded to the newspapers’ requests for comment, and members of the Lipan Apache community, among others, continue to see their land unjustly taken. Under current treaty obligations, in fact, Lipan Apache (having never surrendered to the U.S. government) have a right to craft their own cultural, educational and governmental practices. Lawyers in Texas working with the Lipan Apache cite the legal obligation that the U.S. government has to consult with the indigenous community before deciding any measures that affect their territory. Seizure of Native American land requires consent, and there is a legal precedent for that.

And while the fence probably won’t come down, the UT law clinic is hopeful that the Lipan Apache will at least receive financial compensation. As though that will help them access the ancient sites integral to their cultural practices.

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